Entertaining

Hangin' with Mr. Cooper

A chat with Marcus Wareing, the real-life chef behind the Bradley Cooper film 'Burnt'
Bradley Cooper in Burnt
Photos: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Chef has it all, including two Michelin stars. Chef loses it all. Chef sets out to pull his life together and earn that elusive third Michelin star.

Such is the premise of Burnt, the new film starring Bradley Cooper as said chef and Sienna Miller as his sous chef-slash-love interest, opening this weekend.

It could be said that the film's make-believe restaurant kitchen also has a starring role: Created specially for the film, it looks and feels like an actual professional kitchen, with the buzz of knives chopping, cooks shuffling pans, and Cooper presiding over it all in chef's whites.

Much of that realness can be credited to British chef Marcus Wareing, whose London restaurant, Marcus, has two Michelin stars. Not only did Wareing help to design the kitchen, but he trained the actors to cook and move like chefs, and was on set during filming to make sure that everything felt like an actual restaurant dinner service.

We chatted with Wareing recently about movie magic—and who of the actors really knows how to use a knife.

How did you get involved with the movie, Burnt?

It was actually through the writer [Steven Knight] many years ago. He wanted to write a script about chefs that would hopefully one day be turned into a movie, but he had to first understand the cooking world. He wanted to get inside a chef's head—it just happened to be my head. He wanted to understand how chefs think and get it on paper, then he gave it to Bradley Cooper to bring it to life.

What was it like to train actors to work in a kitchen?

Once you get over who's around you, it becomes a pleasure. The actors are very skillful, very intelligent and pick up things very quickly. You take an actor like Bradley and you push him; I was always looking at where I could jump in and correct how he maneuvers himself.

Being a head chef, you have to be a good leader. I had to make everything sound real, look real, taste real. As good as the actors are, I wanted the food to taste good, look good, smell right. The whole thing gets more authentic when they're dressing a plate, and they're dressing it for real, to be eaten. We just kept doing it time and time again until they got it right.

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Of the actors, who was the most technically proficient cook?

Sienna Miller. She's really brilliant, and she just dove into it. Bradley was playing a chef, but his role was more organizing and leading the kitchen, so he wasn't necessarily cooking the entire time.

What was your day-to-day role on the film?

I worked with the art director before we started shooting. I was involved in the design, down to what kind of stoves, what whisks, what plates we used. Then there was the menu writing and all the food.

The challenge was understanding how a restaurant kitchen should actually look. For instance, if you're shooting a scene right in the middle of the busy service, everything has to look like it's been a work in progress for 12 hours before you shoot. For this type of film, it was creating that atmosphere so the actors felt like they were in the real thing.

It got to a few people, but that's what kitchens are about. The more pissed off the actors looked, the more they looked like chefs.

How accurate do you think the film is about working in a kitchen?

The majority of the film is very accurate. All chefs, somewhere down the line in their careers, have shouted and screamed and smashed a few plates.

How would you compare working in a Michelin-starred restaurant to working on a film?

It's very similar. On a film, the crew and directors and producers all have the same goal: to get the perfect shot. For chefs, it's to make the perfect plate of food. On a film, you shoot time and time again, whereas we cook time and time again. It's identical; it just looks different. And really, it's all about being surrounded by a crew of talented, hardworking people.

If someone were to truly play you one day in a film, who would it be?

Bradley's done a pretty good job of it so far [laughing]. It would be Robert De Niro. He's quite cool. Plus, he looks angry all the time; it reminds me of me sometimes. Bradley smiles too much.

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